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Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, The Life and Opinions of


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By L. Sterne, published 1759–67.

This unique work, although itself the culmination of experiments by lesser authors, is generally regarded as the progenitor of the 20th‐cent. stream‐of‐consciousness novel. It owes much to Rabelais, to Robert Burton, and to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The word ‘shandy’, of obscure origin, means ‘crack‐brained, half‐crazy’, and Tristram in Volume VI of his book declares that he is writing a ‘civil, nonsensical, good humoured Shandean book.’

In spite of the title, the book gives us very little of the life, and nothing of the opinions, of the nominal hero, who gets born only in Vol. IV, and breeched in Vol. VI, and then disappears from the story. Instead we have a group of humorous figures: Walter Shandy of Shandy Hall, Tristram's father; ‘my Uncle Toby’, his brother, wounded in the groin at the siege of Namur, whose hobby is the science of attacking fortified towns; Corporal Trim, his servant, wounded in the knee at Landen, devoted to his master. Behind these three major figures, the minor characters, Yorick the parson, Dr Slop, Mrs Shandy, and the widow Wadman, play more elusive parts.

Subjects: Literature.


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